The American Civil Liberties Union is suing Denver officials on behalf of eight people, charging that wrongful detentions have become a “systemic pattern” in the city, reports the Denver Post. “City officials keep telling us they are fixing this, and yet they reveal they have five new cases in 2009 alone,” said the ACLU’s Mark Silverstein. He has learned of another 27 cases he plans to use in the litigation to show a pattern exists. The city apparently admits to at least 33 mistaken-identity arrests in 2008 alone.
City officials say the problems are isolated and stress that they are responding to complaints and adding new policies. Denver logged 46,989 jail book-ins in 2008. “The numbers are overwhelming where everything is done in an excellent manner,” said Al LaCabe, the city’s safety manager. LaCabe has formed a working group that is reviewing issues and making recommendations. The group determined it would cost at least $54,000 to equip all police squad cars with technology that would allow officers to process fingerprints in the field to help cut down on mistaken-identity arrests. Steps implemented last year to address mistaken-identity detentions haven’t prevented cases in which people spent 24 to 72 hours in jail before it was determined they were wrongly arrested. Jose Mendez is one of at least five people jailed this year when someone else was the true suspect. “I felt terrible,” Mendez said. “The cops didn’t listen. They ignored me, and they laughed at me. I came out of there broke.”